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The University of Cincinnati and The Ohio State University are conducting a study to examine the link between opioid abuse and genetics. It’s one of the first studies to look into the pharmacogenomics—the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs—of opioid addiction. The research is funded by a $1.63 million grant from the Ohio attorney general’s office, using money from pharmaceutical companies involved in lawsuits.

Caroline Freiermuth, MD, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, is the principal investigator for the study. She says there are two goals for the research. The first is to identify any genetic markers associated with opioid use disorder (OUD), and the second is to get a cross-sectional snapshot of how many patients in the emergency department actually have OUD, as this is likely under-recognized and underdiagnosed.

“We look to enroll both patients who don’t have opioid use disorder as well as patients who do, because we want to be able to compare their genetic markers,” Freiermuth says. 

“I think it’s exciting,” says Freiermuth. “It’s pretty new and novel. Nobody has done much with the genetic aspect of OUD. There has been a focus to provide treatment, both with medicated-assisted treatment and taking care of all the complications that arise from OUD, and there aren’t many people looking at preventing [it].”

Freiermuth says that about 40% of patients who are approached agree to participate in the study, which is pretty impressive. “People have jumped at the chance, it is very inspiring to watch. People have no experience with OUD but have just seen everything on the news want to participate to help people,” she said.